Medically reviewed by Leah Millheiser, MD
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 10/08/2019
There’s a masturbation double standard in this world. It is automatically assumed that people with penises play with themselves whenever they get the chance, but self-love for those of us with vulvas and vaginas is still a little taboo.
The good news is most people with vulvas also stick their hands down their pants for pleasure. According to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB), somewhere between 60 percent and 80 percent of women (depending on their age) have masturbated during their lifetime.
The even better news is that it’s good for us. Masturbation provides a physical and emotional release, lowers stress and can help with period cramps. It’s also an excellent learning tool for us to discover where and how we like to be touched — information that we can pass on to our partners.
It’s free, easy, always available and it carries no risk of STIs or unintended pregnancy. That’s a message we can get behind, and here are some reasons why you should, too!
Masturbation improves our overall well-being. Taking a few minutes out of our busy days to do nothing but give ourselves some pleasure is good for our mental and physical health.
Masturbation increases blood flow to the genitals which is essential to good sex with our partners. And orgasms release feel-good chemicals in our brain, including oxytocin (known as the love hormone), dopamine (which gives us a sense that everything is alright) and endorphins (which are natural pain killers). At the end of a good self-love session, we feel relaxed and content. And, because our blood pressure comes down with our climax, we will likely sleep better, too.
So, the next time you are stressed out, suffering from period cramps or having trouble sleeping, consider reaching for your vibrator instead of the bottle of wine or ibuprofen.
Vulvas aren’t complicated, but unlike penises, they’re not hanging down for the world to see. And each one is a little bit different. Getting to know the ins and outs of your own vulva can help make it feel better, whether you’re alone or with a partner.
The vulva is made up of the mons pubis, the labia majora and minora, the clitoris, the area around the opening of the urethra and vagina and the perineum.
Start by cupping your vulva in your hand or stroking the whole thing softly. Try pinching the labia minora gently and rubbing them between your thumb and forefinger.
And then there’s the starting player, the clitoris. It’s the only human body part that has no function other than providing pleasure. It gets slightly bigger and more sensitive when you’re aroused and has thousands of nerve endings, which means it’s super-sensitive to the touch.
While there are a few ways to achieve climax for us women, a good majority of them likely originate from clitoral stimulation. So, start stimulating — use one or two fingers in circular motions and see how it feels. Some people like to have their clitoris touched directly, while others find that too strong (or even irritating) and need a touch that skirts around the edges. This is the perfect way to find out which you prefer.
You should know that the little button — or pearl — that you’re massaging is just the tip of your clitoris, which actually extends deep inside your body in the shape of a wishbone. Push down while you’re rubbing to try to get some of the internal nerves as well.
Every time you explore your own body, you add to your personal knowledge of what feels good, what feels “meh” at best, what you absolutely hate and what you know will push you over the climax cliff.
Once you have this information in your brain and your muscle memory, you can use it to make masturbation better and share it with your partner(s).
Masturbation can feel very goal oriented, but there’s more to self-love than the big “O.” If you have time, set the mood — maybe you want a quiet, music, candles and bubble bath kind of night. Or maybe tonight’s the night for something loud and kinky. Don’t think that just because you’re alone, this should be a bare bones experience.
When you start touching yourself, don’t jump straight to your genitals. Remember you have a lot of erogenous zones that feel tingly when touched. Stroke your thigh. Pinch your nipple. Run your fingernails down the side of your torso.
And don’t stop at your clitoris either. Clitoral stimulation is most likely to lead to orgasm, but stretch it out by putting fingers (or something else) in your vagina as well. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, play with your anus — everyone gets off differently.
One of the best things about masturbation is that it requires no accessories. Your hands are all you need, or maybe a pillow for humping. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t make the experience better by adding a few things.
While you may not need any lubrication to fondle yourself, it can help your fingers slide across the skin more easily and feel more luxurious (think about how much better a little oil can make a shoulder rub from your partner).
When we get turned on, blood rushes to our genitals and causes us to produce natural lubrication — but that’s in the vagina. So, if you’re working with clitoral stimulation alone, you may have to get a little creative.
You could add some lube from a bottle as well. There are so many options right now, including ones that add a sensation of warmth or tingling. If you’re using a silicone sex toy, however, stay away from silicone lubes as they can break down the surface of your dildo or vibrator.
Which brings us to this piece of advice: try a dildo or vibrator. Only if you want to, of course, but sex toys can really add to the masturbation experience. Vibrators come in all shapes, sizes and speeds.
And It doesn’t have to be battery operated to be fun — an old-fashioned dildo can bring your vagina in on the action, and a curved one might even help you explore your g-spot.
Even as the conversation around female sexuality becomes less taboo, there’s the lingering idea that only women who aren’t getting any bother to get themselves off. The image of the lonely spinster getting too close to her shower head is enough to keep some of us from enjoying guilt-free solo sex, but ladies, we’ve got to get over it.
Sure, masturbation is great in a dry spell, but masturbation doesn’t just have to be a solo mission.
For some people, watching their partner pleasure themselves, wriggling and moaning just out of reach, is a huge turn on. In fact, the NSSHB found that 58 percent of men and 53 percent of women have masturbated with a partner at some point in their lives.
Few things in life are free and easy and good for you. Masturbation is one of those things. Let’s celebrate by polishing the pearl, buttering the muffin or fanning the fur. It turns out we have a few cheeky phrases for female masturbation after all!